History of the Texas Exes Life Membership

In 2012, I arrived on campus as a journalism student from McAllen, Texas. I didn’t come from a family of Longhorns. There was no burnt-orange paraphernalia adorning my bedroom walls growing up. When I got to Austin, I’d see cars with bumper stickers and license plates that read “Texas Exes Life Member” around every corner. I didn’t know what they meant. Were these Longhorns part of some secret club? Was every person who graduated from UT automatically a Texas Ex … for life?    

It wasn’t until I started working at the Texas Exes that I understood. After spending four years as an editor of this magazine, I now consider myself an amateur UT historian. I spend many days rifling through the archives of old Alcalde issues and Cactus yearbooks, learning about the people and events that have shaped the university.   

To be a Life Member of the Texas Exes is to be in the same group of some of UT Austin’s greats: head football coach Darrell K Royal (Life Member No. 87), Lady Bird Johnson (Life Member No. 259), and Academy Award-winner Matthew McConaughey (Life Member No. 33,731), among many others.   

These days the Texas Exes touts nearly 85,000 living Life Members out of its 107,000 total memberships. But before 1957, this type of exclusive club didn’t exist. At the time, the alumni organization was 72 years old yet fewer than 10,000 members strong. Texas historian and author Jack Maguire, BJ ’44, Life Member, was leading the Texas Exes—known then as the Ex Students’ Association—as the executive director. He came into the position with years of experience working in public relations, developing a marketing prowess bound to elevate the organization.   

He became executive director in 1956, working hard to increase memberships and the organization’s notoriety on campus. He is responsible for moving the Texas Exes into the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, where my coworkers and I show up for work daily. For years, the organization had bounced around from one location to the next, including Old Main, the defunct YMCA building on Guadalupe and 22nd Street, and the Union. But in 1964, Maguire and the Texas Exes board recognized that alumni needed a home on the Forty Acres.   

What is arguably his most important contribution was creating the Life Membership. A few years before the Alumni Center opened, Maguire was approached by Joe C. “Jodie” Thompson, BBA ’62, Life Member, the founder of 7-Eleven convenient stores and former head of the Southland Corporation. Thompson, a Dallas native who graduated from the business school, decided that he wanted to join the Ex-Students’ Association. But he wanted to be more than just a regular member. That’s when Maguire came up with the idea on the spot: He offered Thompson the very first Life Membership.  

“You’re in!” Maguire’s early letters to new Life Members read. “In the world’s most exclusive fraternity of Texas Exes, that is.”  

Back then, the forever membership cost a modest $250 and was funneled into a permanent endowment fund that supported the association through investment interest. Life Members were given weighty, gold-plated cards inscribed with their names, their membership number, and Maguire’s signature. They used those cards to prove their Life Member status until 1972, when Texas Exes switched to keytags. To this day, members flash their keytags to gain entry to Texas Exes tailgates every football season. “Not only is this key tag an important insurance against the permanent loss of your keys and a handsome addition to your key chain,” Maguire wrote, “but it is also a convenient means of carrying your membership identification with you at all times.”  

Nearly 20 years later, when Maguire—whose Life Member number is 119—retired, there were 7,000 Life Members of the Texas Exes.   

Today, Life Memberships come with more benefits than Maguire envisioned. It’s still true that 90 percent of dues are placed in an endowment that provides support for the Texas Exes in perpetuity. But it’s more than that. There are tangible rewards, like exclusive offers to sports tickets and access to UT resources such as the Perry-Castañeda Library. As the university has grown, memberships connect alums to more than 150 chapters and networks around the world. You can spot a Life Member today not just by what is hanging on their keychain, but by their luggage tags, license plates, and bumper stickers.  

Since I became a resident Texas Exes historian, I’ve come to learn what it means to bleed burnt orange. I’ve become a die-hard football fan, obsessed with showing my UT pride. I’ve advocated on behalf of the university at Orange & Maroon Legislative Day, our biannual event at the Capitol. I’ve met Texas Exes Life Members like William McRaven, BJ ’79, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus; the university’s Minister of Culture; Distinguished Alumna and journalist Arthel Neville, BJ ’86, Life Member; and Life Member No. 100,000: Bevo.   

 The walls of the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center are filled with Honor Roll scrolls that list the names of every Life Member to have ever graced its halls. Personally, I’ve always been struck by the fact that even when alumni die, the Texas Exes still considers them to be Life Members. To be a Life Member is to commit to honor your Longhorn pride until the end—and beyond. 

 
 
 

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